The wind was steady and the snow was blinding. I could barely see my own outstretched hand as I shuffled through the deepening snow. My bare legs were now numb from the cold as I plowed through drifts nearly up to my waist.
Jesus’ footprints were barely visible and disappearing quickly. I had to keep moving. I found myself running, stumbling, falling, getting back up — again and again.
My numb shins began to burn and itch from the prolonged exposure. My eye lids were nearly frozen shut. I had to keep peeling off the frosted flakes in order to keep my eyes on the trail Jesus was blazing.
Worse than the cold wind and blinding snow, was the deafening silence I was experiencing. Snow has an insulating effect, a way of dampening the sounds of around you, until all you can hear is your own breathing and your own thoughts.
And the last thing I wanted in the world right now was to be left alone with my own thoughts.
“Jesus!?” I had been yelling out continuously, but I hadn’t heard his voice for probably 30 minutes — which felt more like 30 hours.
In the ripe silence my thoughts grew louder. Have you ever listened closely enough to your thoughts to discern they often take on different tones? At one moment they had the voice of a scared child crying out for help:
Where is he leading me? How much further? I’m cold. I want to go home. Please slow down, Jesus. I can’t keep up.
The next moment my thoughts had the sneering tone of the Accuser:
This is all your fault! You brought this upon yourself! You should just lay down, close your eyes and fall asleep into peaceful oblivion.
Then the voice of truth again:
No, follow Jesus’ footprints! That’s all I need to do. He will guide me through this.
But the snow only increased and the tracks were beginning to disappear. A huge blast of wind came suddenly, and I found myself stumbling forward, face first into a drift. In the few seconds it took to gather myself, I had somehow lost my sense of direction. Which way was I heading? My cold, numb muscles struggled to pull me to my feet.
When I finally stood up and looked around, the footprints had completely vanished.
Had I been in my right mind, I would have panicked. My mind, however, was beginning to undergo the effects of hypothermia. Instead of fear and panic, I was overcome with a strange calm. I longed to just lay down and close my eyes for a bit.
I did. I slowly let myself begin to drift into the arms of hypothermia. In my semi-conscious state, I could still hear my conflicting thoughts at war in my head. The Accusing voice had grown louder and was now drowning out all others:
How can you care for others when you can’t care for your own soul?
How can you point others to God’s Promised Land when you’re living in a frozen wasteland?
Don’t you see this is God’s way of telling you its time to throw in the towel?
This frozen wasteland is punishment for your sins.
You’re a hypocrite! You’re a failure!
All was quiet for a few moments.
Then in the distance, I heard the faint sound of singing. A distant, solitary voice of one child at first. Then another joined in. Then a third. The voices sounded both very familiar and strange — like the voices of my 3 kids Peter, Isaak and Abigail harmonizing with perfect pitch; and yet strangely majestic and otherworldly — like the tinny, shiny voices of angels.
As their song grew louder, my body grew warmer. I heard a voice whisper in my ear: “Then he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil…and angels came and attended him” (Matt 4:1,11).
Oh, I see. God hasn’t abandoned me! This frozen lake is my Judean wilderness. The Spirit has led me here to be tested. These thoughts are the temptations of the Devil trying to deceive me, questioning my true identity. The voices singing are God’s angels attending me as they did Jesus in his wilderness.
Still my body lay nearly lifeless in the snow. My heart rate very slow, my brain almost asleep, and my systems preparing to shut down as I gave way to hypothermia.
But God’s ministering spirits, the angel chorus, have their ways of bypassing normal communication channels. They are able to sing directly to one’s spirit — bypassing brain activity, beating hearts and breathing lungs. “Deep cries out to deep.”
Their song grew louder now, and fuller. I began to make out the words they were singing in a thousand different voices in a hundred different tongues.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come away with me,
for behold, the winter is past;
the snow is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come away with me
As their song grew louder, my body grew warmer. I soon heard my own voice joining in their song, and as I did my soul was lifted out of my body, upward until I was looking down at my frozen body half buried under the snow. The higher I floated, the louder the singing became.
Suddenly there was a break in the singing, and I heard the voice of Jesus again at last. O, how sweet the sound of his voice!
“Jeremy, son of man, can these bones live again?” Jesus asked, quoting Ezekiel, as I gazed down upon my lifeless body.
My lips responded automatically, as if carried along by the Spirit pulling the right verse from a storehouse of treasured verses: “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (Ezekiel 37:3).
The angel chorus began again, and the singing built in intensity as Jesus continued quoting Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones — since frozen bones are about as hopeless as dry bones:
“Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Frozen bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make warm breath enter you, and you will come back to life” (Ezekiel 37:4-5).
As Jesus prophesied these words over my bones, the singing grew louder. As the song grew louder, my body grew warmer. As my body grew warmer, the snow began to lighten. Suddenly a strong, warm wind blew from east. Whether it was a wind or God’s very breath, is hard to say.
All I know is that the warm breath on my face roused me from my frozen slumber. The blood began to flow in my veins again, and the color slowly returned to my blue face. I opened my eyes to a welcome sight — a deep blue sky had replaced the dull gray. I heard the sound of a running brook in the distance and the welcome chirp of a bird nearby.
The melting had begun.
I slowly pulled myself to my feet, and took a moment to regain my balance and adjust my eyes to the bright reflection of the sun on the snowy landscape. Looking around, I saw an unbelievable sight.
As far as the eye could see, in every direction, there were imprints in the snow of a certain familiar form. You have seen many of them over the years, though usually only 2 or 3 at a time. Seeing a thousand or more of them in one place at the same time is an entirely different thing to behold!
Myriads and myriads of snow angels. But unlike the ones you made in the front yard as a child, there were no traceable foot prints anywhere among them. Like Jacob waking up in the desert, after seeing his vision of the angels ascending and descending from heaven, I could not help declare with him: “Surely God is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Gen. 28:16)!
Yet, there was one set of footprints amidst all the angels. My own. I traced my path back across the lake to see how far I had come. To my great surprise, less than 100 yards away I spotted a row boat frozen in the ice. What had seemed like an endless walk across miles of frozen water had only been a short, loopy path only about the length of a football field.
The real shock was what I noticed next. My path made no sense. In a whiteout blizzard you wouldn’t expect someone to walk exactly in a straight line. You would expect a somewhat meandering trail. Under some distress, you might even find yourself walking a zig-zagged path. But what I now beheld was not a path at all.
It was a message.
As I followed Jesus’ footprints through the blinding blizzard, he was not leading me from point A to point B. He was not leading me from danger to safety. He was literally spelling out my true identity on the surface of my frozen soul. As I walked in step with Jesus, I was learning to walk in step with the truth of who I am. Just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, so I had been driven onto this icy tundra to wrestle with my own demons and face the lies of the Accuser.
With every step we took across that barren, frozen land, Jesus was giving me a New Name — and writing it in a way that I would never forget. Between where I now stood and the rowboat in the distance was the word written by my own snow tracks:
As I stared at the hand-written, or rather, “foot-written” name in the snow, I think I heard a voice from heaven say, “You are my beloved Son, Jeremy; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).